I remember observing a similar reaction in 1978 when Pope John Paul II was first announced as Pope. There was a strange silence that came over the crowd waiting and watching in St. Peter’s Square. People were silenced by an unfamiliar name--a name that they truly had not expected—heralded from the balcony. “Habemus Papam.” “We have a pope.” But who was he? Karol Wojtyla?
After the unexpected resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, many of the pundits and insiders predicted—sometimes rather authoritatively—that our next pope would be the Cardinal from Milan, Italy or maybe the one from Brazil. There were certain expectations created in anticipation of the election.
Then, I saw it happen again last Wednesday. The announcement of a new pope was made. I observed another occasion in which the huge crowd that gathered in St. Peter’s Square was temporarily silenced. “Habemus Papam.” Jorge Bergoglio. Who? Where’s he from?
I was happy to see that the Holy Spirit was at work surprising us again, working in and through the Church and its leaders—the College of Cardinals. They chose a Cardinal from their ranks who was a Jesuit priest, someone from South America, someone who selected a name never before taken by a pope—Francis. Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!
Observing Pope Francis from the balcony that day, I wondered what could be said about our newly-elected Supreme Pontiff. From the outset he showed himself to be a man of prayer, a man of humility, someone who did not appear intimidated by the huge crowd or the daunting responsibilities that lie in front of him. He seemed to be a man who stood with and for the people. He spoke from his heart and was comfortable and genuine in his manner of interaction. I was immediately impressed and reassured by Pope Francis—our new Shepherd.
I read Pope Francis’ first homily—simple, direct, and spiritual. I examined his formal interview with the press—clear, articulate, polite and insightful. What he said was unmistakably “Christ-centered.” He repeatedly evidences a love for and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This morning (Tuesday, March 19—the Solemnity of St. Joseph), I watched via the Internet as Pope Francis greeted the visiting dignitaries from around the world in St. Peter’s Basilica after the Papal Mass. His smile and warmth seemed to radiate a certain peace and inner joy.
What lies ahead in the years of Pope Francis’ pontificate and beyond—that which is currently unknown to us—I confidently conclude continues to be directed and sustained by the mysterious Hand of God. Moreover, the Holy Spirit, guiding the Church from its inception, is not subject to or intimidated by any outside force whether worldly or spiritual/demonic. No pundit, insider, supposedly “enlightened” cleric or layperson, can completely and authoritatively know what God has in store for us all (beyond that which has already been revealed in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition). Only God knows every detail of the things to come.
Back in the 13th Century another Francis—the one from Assisi—heard the voice of God telling him to “rebuild my House (Church) which is in ruins.” Francis took up the call and the impact was felt worldwide. I’m pretty sure another Francis has heard a similar call and will do his part—with the Grace of God—to shepherd the Lord’s flock (Jn. 21:16), to feed the Lord’s sheep (Jn. 21:17), and to rebuild His Church.
May our continual prayers assist him in this task.
Fr. Ed Namiotka
St. Francis of Assisi